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Sometimes, we could have used an expert

In my early memory, mother is tearing down a wall, a sledgehammer shattering the plaster and lathing. One of us, I don’t remember which, stepped on a nail and had to have a tetanus shot. As mother struck her blows, my father may well have been telling her a story. That was the role she sweetly assigned him when they shared a job.
    If there was a job that needed doing, Mother was the woman to do it, whether or not she knew how.
    Can you see where this story is heading? Maybe I should have stuck with telling stories.
    After a day’s work at Bloomington, Illinois’ Eureka Williams vacuum cleaner factory, husband Bill’s father climbed a ladder to paint houses. Eventually he fell.
    But that’s not where this story is going, yet.
    As the children of a pair of determined do-it-yourselfers, Bill and I have climbed many a ladder, though we’ve not yet fallen. I came closest when a spring gust tried to snatch the old-fashioned, wood-framed, five-foot-tall storm window I was unhinging as I stood on a ladder outside the dining room of my 1908 bungalow in Springfield, Illinois.
    I painted every radiator and room of that house once or twice; set tile and knocked down part of a bad plaster ceiling. All without knowing a bit about what I was doing. Eventually, I got smart and called in the experts to knock down a wall, finish the dormer level, refinish the nice inch-wide maple floors and — eventually — paint. But only after stripping the many coats of paint and sometimes dark old cracked varnish from the oak trim.
    In Maryland, Bill and I worked together, painting not only the inside but also the outside of our Fairhaven Cliffs cottage, which is three floors tall on the down-slope Bay side. In some spots I had to hang upside down like a bat, but neither of us fell off the ladder, though on one of my fool’s errands, Bill did fall off a stool when I moved it from the place he expected to find it when he stepped down.
    He laid a brick patio, two down-slope outdoor sets of steps (twice each) and about a mile of six-by-sixes to hold back earth’s effort — seeming as determined as water’s — to reach its own level. Fairhaven Cliffs is a name that’s not kidding.
    We’ve been at work on the earth, too, composting and digging and planting, digging up, cutting down and replanting.
    This house and its little piece of earth has been ours for 27 years, so a lot of that work is maintenance: the perpetual campaign to keep not too far behind wear and tear. A good deal of the labor, however, is correcting mistakes we’ve didn’t know we were making.
    Every time Bay Gardener Dr. Gouin visits, he writes a new column about another folly committed by “many homeowners” who don’t know plant and soil science from Shinola. I worry that his visits coincide with my demands for a series of new columns.
    As the sun sparks off our ceilings, a painting contractor mildly suggests that semigloss may not be the best choice up there, unless you like living in a hall of mirrors.
    Who knew, until the mason came, that paving brick should be set on stone dust, not sand? Or that brick walls needed concrete underpinning?
    Or, until our recent home landscaping class at Adkins Arboretum, that you should plan a landscape before you plant it? Now some of our mistakes tower 50 feet above us.
    It’s slowly dawning on me that there’s something to be said for calling an expert.
    In this week’s Home and Garden Guide, we’ve asked the experts. They’ve got a lot to offer, in ideas, energy and skill. Listen and learn; then judge what’s right for you.
    And, when you do hire an expert as your partner, take the advice of Eddie Knudsen at Hodges ’n’ Sons Home Improvement: Ask questions and get references to ensure the contractor has the expertise and credentials to do what you want and are paying for.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Abandon all hope, you who enter the Divis Flats

British private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell: Unbroken) wants a station in Germany. He wants an easy assignment and money to provide for his son, in care while he’s serving. Instead he’s sent to Belfast, where the IRA is waging a bloody war against the British Crown.
    Fresh out of training and uneasy in the tense streets of Northern Ireland, Hook tries to keep his head down and collect his check. Wish again.
    An inexperienced officer leads his platoon into a riot. Sent into a swarm of protesters to retrieve a stolen gun, Hook sees his comrade’s head blown off and his fellow soldiers beating a hasty retreat — without him.
    An easy target in his British fatigues, Hook flees, evading IRA gunmen and angry citizens. To survive the night in Divis Flats, an IRA stronghold, he must also avoid IRA spies and steer clear of the roving gangs of Molotov cocktail-wielding rioters.
    Hook’s run through the Flats drives a wedge in the already segmented IRA. The old-school members are horrified at the murder of a soldier and fearful that killing Hook will bring the British in bloody invasion. The young IRA want blood and don’t care whose.
    With a soldier stranded in enemy territory, the British military turns to undercover agents. But the spies have their own agenda, a planned counter-strike against the IRA. Hook’s death might just further their plans.
    Can anyone leave Divis Flats alive?
    Director Yann Demange (Top Boy) uses handheld cameras to follow Hook on his dashes through the shadows as the city burns around him. Though handheld can become pointlessly shaky, here the technique compliments Hook’s frenetic journey through the night. Demange also keeps his film looking authentic by using a muted color palate and soft focus that looks like it was shot during the 1971 Belfast riots.
    At the heart of ’71 is O’Connell, who is masterful as the frantic Hook. In his previous starring role in Angelina Jolie’s run-of-the-mill Unbroken, O’Connell was forced into the generic hero role. In ’71, Demange unleashes O’Connell on the screen with brilliant results. Hook is a barely competent kid utterly terrified of the men with guns chasing him. A man without a plan, he simply reacts to what’s happening around him with more luck than skill. When he must fight, his barely contained panic fuels his blows.
    Don’t bother to buy popcorn; you’ll be too breathless to eat it.

Great Drama • R • 99 mins.

Clip right to force branches of flowers

Now is the time to force forsythia, quince, magnolia, crabapple, lilac and weigela branches into flower. Select heavily budded branches from the center of the plants so as not to distract from the natural appearance of the plant when it flowers later in the spring. Flower buds are easily distinguished this time of year because they tend to be plump as compared to vegetative buds. In many species, the ends of the flowering buds are rounded.
    If the container for your arrangement is large like a crock, you will achieve a better effect if you first make a large loose ball with chicken wire. The holes in the chicken wire enable you to stand the branches upright or at any angle. Fill the container two-thirds full with 100-degree water.  
    Cut the branches longer than needed so that when you bring them indoors you can make a second cut just before arranging them in the container. Using sharp pruners, cut the stems at a slight angle and quickly immerse them in the warm water. Freshly cut woody stems will absorb more water when placed in warm water than if placed in cold. Cutting the stem at a slight angle also makes larger openings in the stem’s sieve cells, which absorb the water.
    Don’t bother misting the branches and buds. Misting actually delays flowering because as the water evaporates, it causes cooling.
    To maintain a succession of flowering branches, wait 10 to 12 days before harvesting more branches for forcing. Put them in warm water in an out-of-the-way place, adding these just-flowering branches to your arrangement when the first batch starts dropping petals. As outdoor temperatures become warmer, it will take less and less time to force branches into flower.
    Try mixing forsythia branches with saucer or star magnolia branches. The magnolia will be slower in forcing but will add additional color to your arrangement.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.
 

Spring has us out in fellowship, purpose and celebration

March 20 was the last day of winter. March 21 was the first full day of spring.
    As you’ll remember, a season divided those days. Winter threw a hissy fit on its way out. Spring warmed our chilled hearts and invited us out.
    In Southern Anne Arundel County, the neighborhoods of Fairhaven and Arkhaven accepted the invitation. Close as we live, many of us hadn’t met for weeks; the weather wasn’t fit for fellowship. Mother Earth was a stranger, too, hidden beneath snow or whipped by wind and wintry mix. Spring’s first day was our reunion and the appointed date for our neighborhood cleanup.
    Garbed in boots, gloves and good spirits, we met at the corner for greetings and indefatigable organizer Kathy Gramp’s coffee and banana bread. By the time we reunited for community lunch, we’d not only have caught up on community gossip but also have made a better world. Behind us, dozens of heavy-duty black plastic trash bags proved our achievement.
    The hours in between were dirty work.
    Mud sucked off boots and trapped cars. In Arkhaven Dan Westland’s ancient tractor came to the rescue. But winter is not the nastiest mess maker of one entrapped car.
    Human trash is worse.
    The Arkhaven crew conquered a very large manmade dump, including a mattress. Farther up the road, mattress springs were hauled out by Barbara Smith, who also got the work of cleaning up the remains of butchered deer.
    Were cranes working with us, we could have added at least one abandoned boat to our refuge piles, plus a half-dozen rusted hulls of cars deeper in the woods. Of automotive junk, we collected only a half-dozen or so of tires, one still on its wheel. Years of cleanups, together with ­neighborly everyday pickups, have made a difference.
    Aluminum and glass are scarce nowadays. Even the bottles we pick up are mostly plastic, with beer the exception. “Miller Lite is the most popular beer of those who litter Fairhaven Road, outnumbering all other beer bottles and cans by better than 3 to 1,” Don Stewart reported.
    Even fishing line is plastic, though the virtues Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle extols — invisibility and indestructability — make it a deadly hazard when torn off a reel and left as litter.
    Metal rusts, but plastic will tell our story for ages to come.
    With spring, opportunity abounds to deprive future anthropologists of that story. Get together to clean up your neighborhood, your stream, your watershed.
    April 11 is the Chesapeake’s largest watershed-wide clean up day. Organized by the Alliance for the Bay, Project Clean Stream aims to bring out 10,000 volunteers at over 500 sites across all six Bay states and D.C. The goal is to collect one million pounds of trash.
    Find a cleanup site at cleanstream.allianceforthebay.org.
    After the dirty work, clean yourself up for a party. Ours was swell in food, company and the satisfaction of knowing our mother, Mother Earth, approved.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Dress warm to catch ’em by the shore

Rockfish season is still four weeks away, but already a small crowd of dedicated anglers is breaking out gear. Their tackle is rather odd for the coming trophy season. They don’t favor the short, stout-as-a-broomstick trolling outfits used by Bay skippers. These specialized anglers prefer equipment more common among coastal surf fishermen.
    Their rods are nine to 12 feet long with lengthy butts, and they are hung with big spinning or casting reels capable of 300 or more yards of 20- to 30-pound mono or 30- to 65-pound braid. Their terminal setups are 30- to 50-pound leaders and big circle hooks rigged with three- to six-ounce sinkers. Their bait of choice: bloodworms, as big as they can find.
    A hard winter has delayed these early birds, but now they are shore-bound. The first couple of weeks, fishing is catch and release only. But by the season opener, they will have sussed the tempo of the striper migration and will be ready to slide some rockfish giants into their big coolers.
    Sandy Point, Fort Smallwood and Matapeake State Parks as well as Anne Arundel County’s Thomas Point Park are frequented by the cognoscenti. Further south, Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac has been drawing larger and larger numbers of anglers willing to suffer the wind, chill and rain.
    This tactic, strangely enough, has developed in only the last half-dozen years or so. Big migratory fish surely have been cruising the shoreline looking for a snack as long as they’ve been returning from the ocean to spawn. Yet most anglers have traditionally pursued them by dragging big lures behind big boats.
    Perhaps it was the economic downturn that forced some to remain shore-bound. Perhaps the successes of a small number of dedicated fishers were finally noted. Whatever the reason, more and more anglers have been showing up in the spring to soak a big, whole bloodworm on the bottom and hope for a 40-plus-incher to discover it.
    When fresh menhaden become available, many anglers will switch to them. Some fanatics will even search out herring or shad that have been legally harvested elsewhere (it’s prohibited to take either in any part of the Chesapeake). But the bottom line is that these guys catch fish, and often regularly.
    Many anglers prefer night fishing, when the big rockfish are more apt to frequent the shallows. But I have also interviewed those who maintain banker’s hours and arrive about 9am and fish through to the afternoon. Their theory is that, as the majority of the fish are unpredictable, one might as well be as comfortable as possible when pursuing them. All of these guys catch fish, sometimes lots of them.
    Enduring the weather is a major part of the early spring fishing experience. Warm boots, woolen socks, windproof, insulated coats, snug hats with ear covering, thick gloves, handwarmers and a thermos full of a hot beverage are almost a necessity, especially at night.
    Many anglers fish multiple rigs. Two or more outfits increase the odds of hooking up and ensure that at least one line is available while changing baits or clearing a fouled line.
    When shoreline fishing, sand spikes firmly set into the ground are a necessity. Casually propping your rod against a cooler risks it being dragged into deep water when a strong fish takes the bait.
    A beach chair is another mark of an experienced angler. Shoreline fishing is characterized by long periods of inactivity interrupted by moments of adrenalin-soaked, fish-fighting panic. Being comfortable during the slower moments makes the wait much more tolerable.

Marvels lie under the sea

Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you

     –The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor, its creatures and the coastline — most areas never seen before — are now just a mouse-click away, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.
    The Portal is a treat for you and me and a great help for coastal managers faced with decisions from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.
    The largest database of its kind, it delivers detailed, fine-scale representations of the coast plus maps of the exact location of each recording.
    A work in progress, the Portal so far covers the seafloor off California and Massachusetts with aerial images of the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic coastlines.
    Some 100,000 photographs have been collected along with 1,000 hours of trackline video covering 2,000 miles of coastline.
    Upcoming are Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawaii and the Arctic.
    Start with the tutorial: http://tinyurl.com/qbh5o4v.
    Then dive in: http://cmgvideo.usgsportals.net.
    Learn more about USGS science: http://marine.usgs.gov.

Equinox divides not only day and night but the seasons, too

The new moon winks from sight Friday, obscuring the sun in a total eclipse as seen in a narrow strip over northern oceans. Only residents of a few scattered islands between northern Great Britain and Greenland will see the full eclipse, but viewers across Europe and parts of Asia and Africa will see a partial eclipse.
    The nascent crescent moon returns just after sunset Saturday low against the western horizon. Look just above the crescent’s right tip for Mars, so faint you might need binoculars to see it. In contrast, Venus blazes a dozen degrees above the moon and puny Mars.
    The moon is much easier to spot Sunday evening, now to the left of Venus. About a fist-width to the upper right of the Evening Star, look for the second-magnitude star Hamal, the brightest in the minimalist constellation Aries.
    Monday, the waxing crescent moon shines well above Venus and below the Pleiades star cluster. Venus is so bright you can see it before the sun sets, but you’ll need full darkness to see the stars of the Pleiades, which make up the shoulder of the constellation Taurus. With the unaided eye, most people can see only six of the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. With binoculars, however, there are far more stars than sisters. The Pleiades is an interstellar incubator of gas and dust with thousands of stars dating back 100 million years. A mere 430 light-years from earth, the Pleiades is one of the nearest star clusters.
    Tuesday, the moon passes close to Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull, and the constellation’s other star cluster, the V-shaped Hyades. In Greek myth, these were nine sisters, daughters to Atlas and half-sisters to the Pleiades, which are off to the right. The Hyades mark the face of the bull.
    Friday’s vernal equinox ushers in spring for us in the Northern Hemisphere. At 6:45pm EDT, the sun hovers directly above the equator. High above the equator extending into space is another equally imaginary line, the celestial equator, which divides the heavens into a northern and a southern hemisphere. For the past six months, the sun has been in the southern celestial hemisphere, robbing us of more daylight the farther south it dips.
    Since winter solstice the sun has inched away from its southern nadir, and our days have grown longer. On the vernal equinox, the day is divided more or less equally between light and darkness.
    For the next three months, the sun climbs higher and higher into the northern celestial hemisphere before reaching its northern apex above the Tropic of Cancer on the day of summer solstice. Then it spends another three months slowly dipping southward to the second point of balance, the autumnal equinox.

Vote bracket by bracket for the Live ­Science champion

Which scares you more? A scorpion crawling up your leg? Being devoured by the King of the Jungle? Swimming with a killer whale?
    As March Madness brings the nation’s top college basketball teams into quick-death competition, the website Live Science jumps in with a parallel competition in the Animal Kingdom. Bracket by bracket, you’re invited to advance your worst fears in its no-holds-barred Killer Animal Tournament.
    Starting March 16 and for the next three weeks, vote for the animal you believe should win in four divisions: Land, Air, Sea and Creepy-Crawly. As eliminations progress, you’ll vote in new pairings until, from 16, only eight, four, two and one are left standing.
    Competing are:
    Land Lubbers: African lion versus white rhino; and polar bear versus African elephant.
    Creepy Crawlers: king cobra versus Brazilian wandering spider; and poison dart frog versus deathstalker scorpion.
    Sea Dwellers: killer whale versus saltwater crocodile; and great white shark versus hippo.
    Airborne: African-crowned eagle versus mosquito; and lappet-faced vulture versus peregrine falcon.
    Cast your votes at www.livescience.com/49887-deadliest-animal-tournament.html.
    Share your votes on social media using the hashtag #LSAnimalMadness.
    Watch for the announcement of the Killer champion on April 6 at 3pm.
    Local shout out: Two of the contenders earn a local shout out. Peregrine falcons in residence on the 33rd floor ledge of the Transamerica skyscraper in downtown Baltimore are now Reality Television stars. See them live 24/7 at the Chesapeake Conservancy’s new webcam: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/peregrine-falcon-webcam.
    In a science first, an Andinobates geminisae froglet has hatched in captivity, Smithsonian Institution researchers report. This tiny poison dart frog, the size of a dime, is a conservation-priority species in its native Panama because of an amphibian-killing chytrid fungus.

An old story marred by modern filmmaking

Jimmy ‘The Gravedigger’ Conlon (Liam Neeson: Taken 3) was once the most feared man in New York. Suspected of having killed dozens for his best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris: Frontera), he’s eluded all efforts to pin a body on him.
    Jimmy’s crimes have caught up to him in other ways. He can’t sleep because of dreams of people he slaughtered. His son Michael (Joel Kinnaman: The Killing) will have nothing to do with him. Jimmy drowns his guilt in booze, stumbling from bars to his hovel of a home.
    To the Maguire mob, he’s a washed-up old man who used to be somebody. But he’s still Shawn’s best friend, and the ruthless mob boss tries to help him fight his demons. Shawn always saves him, no matter how drunk, belligerent or broke.
    Until Jimmy kills Shawn’s only son.
    Jimmy takes the shot to save his own son Michael, who happens to be the only witness to a Maguire murder. Now nearly insane with grief, Shawn orders every killer he’s ever worked with to hunt down Jimmy and Michael.
    Michael must in turn trust the ­violent father he has shunned for decades.
    Can the duo patch up their relationship while avoiding every thug and dirty cop in New York?
    At heart, Run All Night is an old-fashioned crime story about family ties, vengeance and the mark violence leaves on families. With subjects so rich, it’s a shame that director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) values style over substance.
    Collet-Serra seems to be directing a video game set randomly throughout New York’s five boroughs. The movie is filled with aerial views of the city that zoom into minute details at nauseating speeds. He has no interest in justifying his slapped-together action sequences. When Jimmy and Michael are trapped in a seeming dead end, Collet-Serra cuts away to the cops. By the time he cuts back, the Conlon boys have escaped. How? The director doesn’t care, so why should you? The only one who seems to be paying attention to the action is Neeson. Jimmy’s ankle is injured in a fall, and to his credit, Neeson remembers to lumber along in at least 60 percent of the subsequent scenes.
    Female characters also follow the video game tradition, speaking only when they are nagging the beleaguered main characters.
    In Collet-Serra’s fantasy version of New York City, traffic is minimal unless there’s a car chase, there is ample street parking and all trains run on time. The citywide manhunt for the Conlons never affects traffic patterns. With transportation so simple, why don’t father and son hop a train out of town?
    Run All Night is redeemed by its leads, two veterans who know how to mine good material out of poor direction. Neeson and Harris play beautifully off each other. Neeson can pull off the dangerous dad in his sleep, but he perks up when Harris joins him on screen. Harris manages to make Shawn frightening, intimidating but oddly human. He clearly loves Jimmy, but this he can’t forgive.
    If only the director had focused on their relationship …

Fair Action • R • 114 mins.

Hard-working pods make fat peas

March 17 is the day many gardeners plant peas. So it’s time to know a little about them.
    Did you know that the green pea pod generates most of the energy needed to swell the peas in the pod? It would seem that the leaves on the vine would be contributing. However, research shows that only the leaves immediately adjacent to the pod contribute to the formation of the flowers and the pod itself. Once the pea pod has formed, it generates the energy that causes the peas within to expand. 
    This discovery was made after a researcher wrapped up a newly formed pea pod. At that stage of growth, the pod was flat. Covered with opaque tape, the pods did not produce peas. Covering one-half of the pod produced small peas. Different colored opaque materials gave similar results.
    To study the energy source that produced the pod, he removed one, two or three leaves above and below the flower on the vine. Removing leaves adjacent to the flower reduced the size of the pod. Removing leaves from the vine above the flower had no effect. Removing two of the leaves below the flower had the greatest effect on reducing the size of the pod. Removing the third leaf below the flower had little effect. Thus, the leaves closest to and below the flower had the greatest effect on the growth of the pea pod.
    This is more than an idle-hands study. It proves the importance of proper spacing of seeds and of growing peas where they will receive maximum sunlight. If you use too many seeds, the plants will be crowded, causing more vine and fewer pods and peas because both the pods and the adjacent leaves will most likely be shaded.
    Peaches, plums and apples have similar leaf and fruit association. Only the leaves adjacent to the fruit generate the energy to cause the fruit to grow and sweeten. All of the other leaves on the tree provide energy for the tree to grow new leaves and branches. This is another good reason for pruning because pruning allows the sun to penetrate to the regions of the tree where fruit is growing.
    The knowledge gained from such studies has resulted in the development of new pruning and training practices. If you visit a newly planted orchard, you will see apple, plum and peach trees being trained on trellises to minimize the growth of the tree and to maximize fruit production. 
    This knowledge has helped us understand partitioning. Partitioning means that plants have evolved systems for diverting energy for specific purposes. Most of the leaves on pea vines and fruit trees are designated to grow the plant. Only those leaves nearest the flower and fruit produce the energy to grow the fruit. In the case of the pea, the photosynthesis of the pod produces the energy to grow the peas within.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.